The Intuitive Eating Scale (IES) was created as a way to measure what cues influence healthy eating behaviors. IES was originally designed to address eating behaviors in college women and therefore is sensitive to the emotional and physical reactions of young adult females. Although the idea of exploring what factors contribute to adaptive eating is novel and necessary, this has not been examined in adolescents, a segment of the population that is especially vulnerable for eating and food problems. To extend this existing vein of research, Sally A. Dockendorff of the Department of Psychology at the University of North Texas recently conducted a study using the IES to assess eating behaviors and eating cues in a sample of more than 500 adolescents.
Dockendorff enlisted male and female middle school students and sought to see how the existing factors of the IES designed for young adults would apply when used to assess adolescents. She found that several of the factors were effective at assessing cues that predicted healthy and adaptive eating. Specifically, Dockendorff found that the “unconditional permission to eat” factor revealed that average weight teens with adaptive eating had fewer negative messages about their body and weight than the teens with negative eating behaviors. This lack of pressure to diet may allow the teens to feel free to eat what they want and, in general, have a higher level of body satisfaction than teens that are receiving negative messages.
The study also found that the female participants reported eating for emotional reasons more often than the boys did. This supports the second factor, “eating for physical reasons,” as a valid way to measure adaptive eating. Two other factors that were revealed as relevant to adolescents were “awareness” and “trust.” The participants of average weight had higher trust and awareness scores, suggesting that they were more attentive to the physical signals of satiation and trusted those cues. “In addition, those adolescents who qualified for free or reduced cost lunch had less trust in their internal cues than those who did not,” added Dockendorff. This finding underscores the importance of addressing trust issues in adolescents and helping them reduce feelings of shame and worthlessness about their lives, economic condition, and bodies that could ultimately lead to negative eating patterns.
Dockendorff, S. A., Petrie, T. A., Greenleaf, C. A., Martin, S. (2012). Intuitive eating scale: An examination among early adolescents. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029962
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